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Image: Full moon
Julio Cortez / AP
A full moon rises behind the Empire State Building in New York in this view from Eagle Rock Reservation in West Orange, N.J., on April 6. A month later, the biggest and brightest full moon of the year is arriving on Saturday night.
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updated 5/5/2012 12:34:34 PM ET 2012-05-05T16:34:34

If the full moon looks a bit bigger and brighter in Saturday night's sky, you're not seeing things: It's just the "supermoon" — the biggest moon of 2012. And there's a meteor shower from Halley's Comet that's peaking as well, adding to the sky show.

The full moon of May will hit its peak overnight Saturday night and early Sunday, just one minute after the moon makes its closest approach to Earth. The timing means the moon, weather permitting, could appear up to 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than a full moon at its farthest distance — an event scientists have nicknamed the "supermoon."

The moon will be at its fullest at 11:35 p.m. ET just after hitting perigee, the point in its orbit that brings the moon closest to Earth. The technical name for the event is a "perigee moon."

The moon will be about 221,802 miles (356,955 kilometers) from Earth, about 12.2 percent closer to our planet than when the moon is at apogee, its farthest point. The average Earth-moon distance is about 230,000 miles (384,400 kilometers).

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The last time a supermoon occurred was in March 2011. That supermoon was actually closer to Earth than the moon will be tonight by about 248 miles (400 kilometers). [Amazing Supermoon Photos from 2011]

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Big moon rising
A good time to watch is during moonrise or moonset. At these times, the moon can appear much larger than when it is higher in the sky. The view is actually an optical illusion.

The moon is no larger than it is when it's overhead in the night sky and you can prove it yourself. Here's how: When the moon is low on the horizon, measure its size with a ruler or your thumb and forefinger. When it's higher up in the sky, try again. The distances will be the same.

The precise time of moonrise varies, depending on location. For observers in California, the moon will rise at about 7:37 p.m. PT. Skywatchers with a clear horizon on the East Coast will see it rise at 7:46 p.m. ET. You can find the exact time for your location using the Old Farmer's Almanac.

The extra big full moon of May can mean higher tides on Earth, an effect called "perigean tides," but there is no chance of the supermoon posing a threat to Earth.

"In most places, lunar gravity at perigee pulls tide waters only a few centimeters (an inch or so) higher than usual," astronomer Tony Phillips wrote in a NASA supermoon alert. "Local geography can amplify the effect to about 15 centimeters (6 inches) — not exactly a great flood." 

Meteors from Halley's comet
The supermoon is not the only celestial sight gracing the evening skies this weekend. On Saturday night, the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower is due to hit its peak, promising up to 60 meteors per hour for skywatchers with optimum viewing conditions (clear weather and away from city lights).

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is one of two "shooting star" displays created by dust left over by the famed Halley's comet as it makes its 76-year trip around the sun. The Orionid meteor shower in October is the other meteor show from the comet.

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While the supermoon is expected to outshine the fainter Eta Aquarid meteors, NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke predicts that some bright fireballs may be visible. Cooke and his observing team at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center have already recorded several bright fireballs from the Eta Aquarids and are looking forward to seeing more using the agency's network of all-sky meteor cameras.

"Ideal viewing conditions are clear skies away from city lights, especially just before dawn," NASA officials wrote in an Eta Aquarid meteor observing guide. " Find an area well away from city or street lights. Lie flat on your back on a blanket, lawn chair or sleeping bag and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors. Be patient — the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse."

Views from NASA's all-sky cameras are available to view the Eta Aquarid meteor shower remotely here: http://www.nasa.gov/connect/chat/allsky.html

Want to share your moon or meteor photos with the world through msnbc.com? Please upload your pictures using the msnbc.com FirstPerson "Sky Highlights" in-box to have them considered for use in a supermoon gallery.

If you snap an amazing photo of the supermoon of May or the Eta Aquarid meteor shower and would like to share it with Space.com for a story or gallery, send photos and comments to managing editor Tariq Malik at: tmalik@space.com.

You can follow Space.com Managing Editor Tariq Malik on Twitter@tariqjmalik. Follow Space.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter@Spacedotcomand onFacebook.

© 2013 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com.

Photos: 50 years of views from the moon

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  1. Up-close exploration of the moon, Earth's only natural satellite, began in 1959 when the Soviet Union launched its Luna 1 spacecraft on a flyby mission. NASA quickly followed up with missions of its own. Since then, the Europeans, Japan, China and India have launched their own lunar exploration programs. This view shows the moon as seen from the international space station. Click the "Next" arrow above to check out 11 images from the moon made over the last 50 years. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 1959: Far side in full view

    In October 1959, the Soviet Union's Luna 3 spacecraft - the third successfully launched to the moon - made history as the first probe to image the far side of the moon. The photos were fixed and dried on the spacecraft and beamed back to Earth. Though fuzzy by today's standards, the images showed stark differences from the near side, including relatively few dark areas, called lunar maria. (RSA via NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 1966: A restored ‘Earthrise'

    In 1966 and 1967, NASA sent a series of Lunar Orbiter spacecraft to collect detailed images of moon's surface in preparation for the Apollo program. The tapes were then put in storage. Decades later, researchers with the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project collected the vintage hardware required to play back the imagery. That imagery was digitized , reproducing the images at a much higher resolution than previously possible. On Nov. 11, 2008, the project researchers released this enhanced photograph of Earth rising above the lunar surface, originally made by Lunar Orbiter 1 in 1966. (LOIRP / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 1968: The most famous 'Earthrise'

    On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders made history as the first humans to orbit the moon. They were scouting its surface for a suitable landing spot for future missions. But the sight of Earth rising above the moon's horizon caught their - and the world's - attention. The photograph, called "Earthrise," is among the most famous ever made from the moon. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. 1969: One small step

    On July 20, 1969, an estimated 1 billion people around the world were glued to television screens to watch astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, climb down from the lunar module spacecraft for a stroll on the moon. As his foot touched the lunar surface, he famously said "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind." This image is a black-and-white reproduction from the telecast, showing Armstrong stepping down from the lunar module's ladder. (NASA Johnson Space Center) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 1969: Man on the moon

    Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, shown here, accompanied Armstrong for the famous walk on the moon. This iconic image is one of the few that shows Armstrong on the lunar surface - as seen in the reflection on the spacesuit's visor. The astronauts walked around on the lunar surface for about two and a half hours. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 1994: Looking for ice

    This mosaic image of the moon's southern polar region, made by the Clementine spacecraft in 1994, suggested that the region could harbor water ice within regions of its craters that are never lit by the sun. The water ice would be left over from impacting comets. Scientists have debated the evidence for and against water ice at the poles ever since the Clementine discovery. The current era of lunar exploration could resolve the debate. If water ice exists, it could help quench the thirst of future human colonists and be used to make fuel for rockets. (NASA / JPL / USGS) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 2006: European moon probe crashes

    On Sept. 3, 2006, the European Space Agency's SMART-1 spacecraft went out with a bang - a planned crash landing into a volcanic plain called the Lake of Excellence. The impact, shown here, was captured by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. (The black lines are a processing error due to the brightness of the event.) The spacecraft was launched in 2003 primarily to test an ion propulsion system, which uses energy captured by the sun to produce a stream of charged particles. The slow-and-steady propulsion system may be used on future interplanetary missions. (Christian Veillet / CFHT via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. 2007: China targets the moon

    China made its first major strides in the lunar exploration game with the launch of the Chang'e 1 spacecraft in October 2007. The orbiter was sent to make a detailed, 3-D map of the moon's surface. Premier Wen Jiabao unveiled the first image at a ceremony in Beijing, shown here. Chang'e 1's 16-month mission ended with a controlled crash. The country reportedly plans to launch lunar rovers in 2010 and 2017, and a manned mission to the moon by 2020. (Huang Jingwen / XINHUA NEWS AGENCY) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 2008: India joins the lunar club

    The Indian Space Research Organization successfully launched its Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft on Oct. 22, 2008, for a mapping mission to the moon. A probe released from the mothership took this picture of the lunar surface during its descent to a planned crash landing at the south pole. The Indian space agency plans to use this and other data for a lunar rover mission in 2011 and, eventually, a manned mission. (ISRO via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. 2009: Japan orbiter watches eclipse

    Some eclipse enthusiasts travel the globe to glimpse alignments of the sun, Earth and moon. Japan's Kaguya probe did them one better: It shot this sequence of a Feb. 10, 2009, eclipse from its lunar orbit. The image shows the view of the sun from the moon mostly covered by Earth. The "ring" appears dark at the bottom because it is obscured by the night-darkened limb of the moon. The Kaguya orbiter was launched in September 2007 to study the moon's origin and evolution. It made a controlled crash landing on the moon in June 2009. (JAXA / NHK) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. 2009: NASA goes back to the moon

    On June 18, 2009, NASA launched two spacecraft to the moon to map its surface in unprecedented detail, scout for future landing sites, and smash probes into a permanently shaded crater in hopes of resolving a longstanding debate over whether such regions contain water ice. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will orbit both poles for a year, and its mission could be extended to serve as a communications relay for future lunar missions. This is one of the first pictures sent back by the orbiter. LRO's sibling, the crater-smacking LCROSS probe, is due to impact the moon's south pole in October. (NASA / GSFC / ASU) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: Super full moon visible Saturday night

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